Cobots – Advancing through collaboration
In the cutting-edge factories of Industry 4.0, workers are starting to share the workplace with collaborative robots, often called cobots. Able to work alongside and interact with people to boost efficiency and productivity, cobots are opening up a world of new potential in manufacturing and beyond. Still in its infancy, the cobot sector is following a different trajectory than that of industrial robots. Instead of completing large-scale industrial processes, cobots actually assist factory workers. That said, the level of technical know-how required to develop a cobot is very high, but the market landscape is competitive and there is rising urgency to cut costs. Simultaneously, common misconceptions continue to circulate about robots and cobots. Many people view them as dangerous, high-power manufacturing systems that are off limits to humans because of their inherent safety risk.
The latest generation of cobots demonstrates, however, that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Moreover, these risks can be minimized or even eliminated with the right combination of semiconductor solutions and advanced algorithms. First and foremost, cobots need advanced safety capabilities as well as the ability to scan their surroundings with utmost precision. Sensors give them the ability to understand the environment around them. Only then can human workers be certain they are not at risk of collisions and other workplace hazards. A collaborative robot also needs to be able to identify its location and navigate its immediate surroundings. By having an experienced partner like Infineon at your side, you can be certain to design a cobot that checks all the boxes.
Structural system overview: cobots
Quintessential cobot design traits
Industrial cobots are usually articulated robots because they offer the greatest degree of flexibility. While they share some similarities with traditional industrial robots, there are a few clear differences. Most obvious to the human eye, the manipulator of a cobot is contained within a soft-shaped housing. Instead of learning about the surroundings through external sensors, internal robot sensing and environment sensing capabilities are combined into one and integrated into the cobot’s arm. This is an essential safety feature since cobots usually are not separated from workers by a physical safety fence, a laser curtain or other comparable measure.
Another distinctive design feature of cobots is that the motor drives and the motors inside the joints of the robot arm and the effector are not separated. Optimized for power density, the motor drives can be integrated directly into or close to the motor housing. As a result, the wiring efforts are reduced to a common DC supply bus, which is tapped by the individual motor drives located inside the joints. Additionally, cobots rely on a simplified communication infrastructure. There is only one internal backbone bus used for communication between the functional elements located inside the control box and the manipulator. In terms of payload ranges, collaborative robots typically range from ~3 to ~10 kg. If the upper payload value is exceeded, a robot’s arm may not be able to stop quickly enough due to high inertia, so the operating speed decelerates drastically as a safety measure. This results in a drop in productivity.
Market challenges ahead for collaborative robots
Similarly to industrial robots, there is mounting pressure to bring cobots to market quickly. A building block system of pre-configured components makes a cobot’s hardware rapid to assemble according to the design specifications. However, the software, more specifically the innovative algorithms used to control a cobot, is absolutely vital to a design’s success and takes more time, and qualified manpower, to develop.
Because they essentially interact with or work in the vicinity of human workers, cobots need to be smart and sensitive. Electronics that are functionally safe and reliable enable such traits. Robots that are small in size and weight are also in high demand among manufacturers because they lead to lower mechanical inertia at higher operating speeds. Components with a high degree of integration and high power density can help give a cobot these desirable characteristics. Last but certainly not least, security is absolutely essential in every cobot design. For remote accesses, IP protection and to avoid the use of non-genuine parts, a cobot requires maximum security on its flexible and connected interfaces. Because cobots can be programed remotely within a fleet, preventing unauthorized access is equally critical. Proper security is the only way to prevent harm, and establish trust in and acceptance of the technology.
Infineon’s contribution to collaborative robots
At Infineon, we are here to provide insight into and assistance in all kinds of cobot projects. We thoroughly understand every facet of the application and are pleased to pass on our know-how to all our customers. By partnering with us to develop a custom-made cobot solution, you benefit from:
- Ready-to-integrate functional building blocks, for motion control, environment sensing, efficient power supplies and chargers, auxiliary supplies for sensors, digital and analog logic, and security
- Highest quality standards and a safety certified development process
- Security measures for functional safety solutions
- Deep knowledge of the entire robotics field, of the whole system and down to the last detail
- One stop shop that makes it easy to leverage the full potential of the system
- Leading products with proven track record from the broadest portfolio along the whole control loop
- Our insight as an active participant and partner in the young, rapidly advancing cobot market
Focus on: system solutions for cobots
Leveraging the potential of a cobot system solution from Infineon adds value to any cobot project. You benefit from the expertise of an experienced, dependable partner that is both a leading component supplier and foremost user of robotics in manufacturing processes. As a security market leader with an outstanding partner network for embedded security, we know that the only secure system is one with hardware-based security. That’s exactly what you get from anything with our name on it. No project is too big or small. We can ensure best-possible availability and scalability thanks to our large power manufacturing facility that follows the highest-possible quality standards to help you grow as needed.
Let’s join together to see what is possible in the exciting world of cobots. We invite you to explore our complete product portfolio as a starting point. Reach out to us anytime for more information or answer to your collaborative robot or robotics-related questions.